Anorexia in Reptiles

 Reptiles often stop eating in captivity. Although anorexia may be the first sign of a disease, it is not necessarily related to health problems. Some reptiles will go through seasonal changes in appetite related to mating seasons, pregnancy or change in day/night ratio. 

Many reptiles are accustomed to infrequent meals and can physiologically sustain long periods without food. Snakes can go a whole year or more without food or water in a protected environment. In non-tropical climates, reptiles hibernate each year. It is a low metabolic rate wintering stage which is common to other species as well. In captive reptiles anorexia sometimes coincides with the hibernation season. It is possible that their biological clock induces such behavior. 

Other reptiles, especially herbivores (plant eaters) feed daily and are not well adapted to prolonged starvation.  Iguanas usually feed daily and so do many tropical reptile species. 

Life in captivity can be very stressful for reptiles. Captive environment should mimic the natural habitat. Differences in humidity, lighting, temperature or pressure may create inadequate conditions for the pet reptile. Space, ventilation and cage set-up also greatly influence how reptiles feel and behave. There are also individual factors - some reptiles adapt better then others to changes.  

Stressed reptiles often stop eating and develop a dysadaptation syndrome. They progressively deteriorate, lose weight and die. Stress suppresses the immune system and predispose to infections. Bacteriae, viruses and parasites multiply rapidly and cause diseases. Sick reptiles do not eat; they become energy depleted and succumb to diseases. 

When reptiles become anorexic, the cause needs to be determined. Sick reptiles are often treated with antibiotics and parasiticides. Dehydrated patients receive fluid therapy. The veterinarian might also use appetite stimulants and vitamins. A habitat and husbandry correction is integrated into the treatment plan. 

It is extremely important to visit a herpeto-veterinarian upon acquisition of a new pet reptile. Keeping reptiles requires expertise which new owners must acquire in order to keep their pet reptiles healthy.

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